The Praktica MTL5 is a simple mechanical fully manual SLR with a metal body like the Pentax K1000. Operation is simple and straight forward with no multiple vari-programs, auto-focus modes nor drive modes getting into the your way in taking photos, just focus, set the aperture and shutter speed, shoot and wind to the next frame! Thus, it is a great choice for people who wants to start from the basic in learning photography, especially for those with a tight budget.
The Praktica MTL5 was manufactured by VEB Pentacon in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany). It is one of the late models of the long-lived Praktica L-series SLRs and was produced from 1983 to 1985, a few years before the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990.
The MTL5 uses the M42 universal screw mount which was first introduced in 1949 with the Zeiss Contax S (world’s first pentaprism 35mm SLR) in which itself also made in former GDR. Beside Praktica, Pentax and a number of other manufacturers also had used the M42 mount on their SLRs. However, at the time of the introduction of the MTL5, almost all other manufacturers (with the exception of Zenit KMZ of Russia and might be a few others) had replaced the aging M42 screw mount on their SLRs with the more precise and more efficient bayonet mount.
Unlike the Pentax K1000, the Praktica MTL5 uses stop-down metering which means you focus with aperture fully open (thus a bright viewfinder image) and then close down the aperture to its preset (by using the black level at the front of the camera slight upper-right to the shutter button, see photo above.) to meter the light. To be more precise, this method should be called stop-down metering with automatic diaphragm because the aperture stays fully openned before picture taking (except when during the time the stop-down lever is manually pressed down) and is automatically close down to the preset by the camera during the shutter is openned. This is done by a metal plate inside the camera body pressing down the silver pin (see photo above) on the rear of the lens.
The MTL5 has am unusual placement of its shutter button (see photo above) which at first might take the user a bit time to get used to but eventually should make the handling better. Another thing worth noted is its self-timer. It has its own release button which must be used instead of the main shutter release. Because of this, I once thought the self-timer is broken on their camera since I could not initiate the timing process by pressing the main shutter release.
Also, the MTL5 offers film quick-loading which is not usually seen on an entry-level full manual camera. Unlike more sophisticated quick-load designs used in Japanese SLRs, the MTL5 quick-load mechanism is simple but effective (see photo above).
Compare to Pentax K1000
- Both employ mechanical shutter which allow the camera to operate with full range of shutter speeds without battery.
- Standard ISO hot-shoe plus PC-sync terminal provided.
- simple, reliable, durable and economical.
Advantage over the K1000:
- depth-of-field preview is possible with the stop-down lever.
- stop-down lever serves as the on/off switch of the light-meter (for the K1000, you need to keep the lens cap on when not in use to prevent battery draining)
- film quick-load mechanism
- strong metal blade shutter with a sync speed of 1/125 seconds (K1000 has a cloth shutter with a slower 1/60 seconds sync speed)
- a larger “ready position angle” for the winding lever which provides better handling (it is only about 10° for the K1000)
- M42 screw mount is much less efficient than the bayonet K mount of the K1000. It takes longer to mount/remove a lens and there is a possibility of cross-threading when it is not done carefully.
- Although some M42 mount lenses are legendary in their optical quality, the K mount has a much larger and more modern lens choices. Even a modern Pentax full-frame auto-focus zoom lens can be used on the K1000 as long as that lens has an apreture ring.
- Stop-down metering takes longer than K1000’s open-apreture metering.
- The MTL5 meter requires an obsolete and banned mercury battery while the K1000 meter uses a readily available silver-oxide battery.
- Very strong shutter and mirror flipping mechanism which requires a pair of steadier than usual hands to prevent camera-shake.
- The leatherette that covers the body might come off as the camera ages.
Well, let’s see some sample photos from the Praktica MTL5. Two different lenses were used, the Pentacon 50mm f1.8 MC (upper photo) and the Praktica 135mm f2.8 (lower photo), film used is Fujifilm XTRA 400.
The Story behind my Praktica MTL5
I had been looking for a mechanical camera for a long time. It was not my initial intention to buy the MTL5 since I am a Nikon user myself. I was looking for something like a FM10 or a Nikkormat but none of the used ones I encountered are both acceptable in quality and price. Then I saw someone selling a MTL5 with a 50mm and a 135mm lens on a local Internet classified, the price can only be said to be a fair deal (not extra-ordinary cheap) but since I always want to buy an East German or Soviet made camera, I decided to take it.
The lenses are in almost prefect condition and camera itself is not bad either, it is mechanically good. Cosmetically, I replaced part of the light-seals and re-attached some of the leatherette “skin” that came off. The speed markings on the shutter dail were gone and a new one made from paper (photocopy from pictures in manual) is sticked onto the dial. The camera came with its original user-manual and warranty card (long expired of course) issued by local distributor. Even the original battery (which is also made in Germany) was still inside the camera when I bought it but of course this is not a good thing.
Unfortunately, it was broken recently. Below is an image from the last roll and it was shot with Fomapan 100 film.